April 9th, 2003 marked a significant day in the history of undivided Andhra Pradesh politics when the then Congress legislature party leader Dr. YS Rajasekhara Reddy set out on Praja Prasthanam (Padayatra) walkathon to highlight the problems faced by the people across the state and also the apathy of Nara Chandrababu Naidu-led the government towards them.
Shouldering the responsibility of reviving the Congress party prospects in the state, YSR began his long, arduous padayatra from Chevella in Rangareddy district, now in Telangana. The historic foot march covered 11 districts traversing through Ranga Reddy, Medak, Nizamabad, Karimnagar, Warangal, Khammam, West Godavari, East Godavari, and Visakhapatnam before culminating at Ichchapuram in Srikakulam district covering 1,475 Kms, on June 15th, 2003. The yatra passed through 56 Assembly constituencies over a span of 68 days.
In the course of Padayatra, YS Rajasekhara Reddy addressed many public meetings, met varied people, and heard their problems. He was moved by some incidents, the trappings of common man’s travails, during the padayatra.
The padayatra enriched YSR’s awareness of people’s actual living standards and touched his conscience as he came across the plight of farmers amid a spate of their suicides in the state. On the 8th day of the yatra, he received a big applause from the public when he announced that the Congress party if voted to power, would introduce free electricity to the farmers in the state.
Famous for keeping his word at any cost, YSR fulfilled what he had promised after the Congress party was voted to power in 2004. He had signed his first signature on the file of providing free electricity for nine hours to the farmers in the state, in the very next moment of taking oath as the chief minister.
Here is an interesting anecdote about an incident that YSR came across during his Padayatra.
Seeing that some work was going on in Ponthangi Cheruvu, YSR went to the labourers. As he enquired, they told him that they were doing work under food for work programme. They also told him that they were being given 5kgs of rice while the children were given 3 Kgs of rice. Livid at the way they were being treated, Rajasekhara Reddy questioned the contractor, “How could you employ child labourers? Why were the others not being paid minimum wages?” But, there was no response from the contractor. YSR then instructed party workers to report the matter to the district collector and see that proper wages are paid to the labourers. The incidents that he encountered and the issues that he intervened to resolve all along his walkathon were very similar to this.
As YSR went about his grueling walkathon with an aura of his own, people found a god-send in him. Farmers, aged people, students, the unemployed, widows and oppressed women and people from all sections of society came to him and poured in their complaints and grievances. Already known for his deep connect with the issues troubling the people, YSR found an ideal opportunity in padayatra to further identify the gaps in the system of governance which prevented the poor from having access to good medical and healthcare, education. He also saw the sorry state of medical facilities in villages during this time. The state of education at all levels was no different.
As he knew more about the plight of homeless people, widowed women, aged people, physically challenged and the students, the intent to help them and the plans in his mind for their welfare firmed up.
Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy was determined to change the education and health sectors in the state. And this resolve played the catalyst for him to come up with his flagship scheme Arogyasri which became a model for healthcare for other states too.
Eventually, as widely anticipated, the historic walkathon paved the path for the YSR-led Congress party to emerge victorious in the 2004 general elections. Congress party had bagged 157 seats out of the 294 Assembly seats in 2004 general elections.
Dr YSR termed the result as ‘people's victory’ and vowed to continue the welfare and development schemes for the people, a promise which saw him retain power in 2009, and a promise which he kept until his untimely demise.
Even though his successors failed to live up to the standards set by YSR in providing welfare-oriented governance, his legacy revived with the emergence of his son YS Jagan Mohan Reddy. In 2017, YS Jagan, in a similar situation to reassure the people of Andhra Pradesh of fresh hope, launched the Praja Sankalpa Yatra on November 6. Feeling oppressed by the government of the day, the people once again saw a saviour coming to their hinterland to rescue them out of their travails.
YS Jagan’s padayatra was launched in his hometown of Idupulapaya in YSR district on November 6th, 2017. The Praja Sankalpa Yatra culminated on January 9th, 2019 at Ichchapuram in Srikakulam district after traversing through 13 districts, covering 135 Assembly constituencies and 2516 villages. This walkathon smashed all the records as it went on for 341 days covering a mind-boggling 3,648 Km, a feat no one has ever done in the history of Indian politics. The people of Andhra Pradesh showed faith in him just like how they did in the case of his father. Dr YSR after the Padayatra led the Congress to stupendous victory by winning 157 seats out of the 294 Assembly seats in the General Elections.
The same effect was seen in the year 2019 when YS Jagan Mohan Reddy led the YSR Congress Party to an astounding win against the TDP where the YSRCP won 151 Assembly seats out of the 175 seats and 22 Parliamentary seats out of the 25 seats.